Utopia in the Sewers
by Özkan Akman
September 28th, Daylight. They have overtaken the surface for quite some time now. Their calendars say the year is 2089, ours 58. I do not know which one’s true. We are safe underground in a place the surface people call Esenyurt. They don’t come down, we don’t go up. Sewers run deep. They don’t allow us at the surface of the city. They send their nuclear waste and garbage down here. We reprocess all of them into useful everyday items.
I am in my second year at the University of Esenbucak. I will be an actor in 5 years. They say I am exceptional. I try to be good. Actors live the best down here. I wanted to be a miner, but pops insisted on me being an actor.
Never seen the surface myself. But we practice going outside a lot in the university. My boyfriend Furkan is also an actor. He’s good at his job. Recently he managed to buy a newer version of an iPad from a nearby store at the surface. He was paid quite a lot for that. I don’t understand the appeal really, it’s slower than our technology. Can’t even hack and install a new operating system or play newer games at all. But thanks to that, now everyone in the district has heard of Furkan and his girlfriend Merve. He says that it’s quite hard for them to not notice you. You have to have a certain way of walking, talking, chewing. You have to have a certain way of breathing because the air they breathe is polluted. You have to be able to understand them and answer to them like they do among themselves. If they detect that you are from the sewers, it’s not illegal for you to be killed in their law.
Inside the sewers of Esenyurt is a vast cave system of a city. Esenbucak. Name of our republic. I live all the way down the bottom because that’s where the school district is. Me and my boyfriend will live in the university dorm until I graduate. School district consists of elementary, high school, and university all in the same place. Every student is considered a member of the Student Class. It’s a class like Proletariat. But unlike the workers that are being replaced by robots as we speak, we cannot be replaced. Maybe we will try to go somewhere else later. But I like it here. Nice and quiet.
I like quiet. Sometimes I feel like I might have made the wrong choice. That this is a difficult job. Even graduating is very hard. I could be a miner by now, making new streets. New streets and houses are highly needed. Government guarantees houses for every citizen. That is of course means citizens of Esenbucak Republic. Each citizen of the republic is guaranteed free housing, education, clothing if you don’t have it, technology if you need it. Everything you want is provided if you are a citizen.
My boyfriend wants me to be the chieftess of the district. He tells me to run for the chieftain election. I do not know if it’ll even benefit me, it’s only for one year. But he says that he’ll publicly support me publicly if I run, so that almost means a guaranteed win. I am not so sure about this. One year of listening to people’s problems and trying to solve them can’t be that bad. Most of them are students here anyway. So they might not even have bigger problems than “My internet is not working.”
Speaking of which, we even have free and fast internet down here. Every citizen can use it anywhere in the Esenbucak. Furkan says he might quit acting to become an internet technician. He’s actually half-decent. But I think he might just be scared of going to the surface. We all are.
In the morning I always go to the bakery and convenience store in the district centre. I like the bread Yasemin bakes. She is a friend from class. She studies Gastronomy at the university. She and her girlfriend Meral, are working at the bakery together, add that to the college student wage they are getting. That’s a lot of money. Well, we all have a lot of money, but what can you even buy with money these days? Anything you want to buy can be provided free. We don’t pay for electricity because all city runs on geothermal. Well, we get our water all the way from the Black Sea and Marmara and so far surface people didn’t even notice. I think government keeps the money around because they are old-minded.
Yasemin tells me that she heard from somewhere that surface people no longer can grow wheat like we do with our underground farms. So they process their bread. She says we are lucky that we can create oxygen with something called electrolysis. I don’t understand chemistry or engineering at all really. But she tells me this was some sort of war technology that was used by the army to fight under the sea, way back in the day. She’s so smart I don’t know why she didn’t choose a job that is “not bakery”. But I guess she loves her girlfriend and loves being around her. She’s happy, and I am happy for her. I invite her and her girlfriend for dinner.
I come back to find Furkan playing World of Warcraft with his friends from Tuzlaköy. It’s another underground city like ours that is far away from us. We have underground metro to go there. But his ass won’t get up to do anything at all. Why does he even play that game anyway? That game’s older than one of my dads. He tells me surface people have been releasing DLC for it for almost half a century now. My theory is that surface people do not have a livable income. So in order for people in the studio to not go broke, they keep releasing the same stuff almost annually. So since they don’t release anything new, surface people keep playing it. But us underground people can do anything and still get paid. Everyone’s got a job and it’s paid well. If you can’t perform your job, you can quit and the Union finds a job for you.
We eat our breakfast and I watch him play some more games until I get bored. I hit the shower and go outside. There’s this cafe nearby I usually go to. It’s the greenest place in the whole district. Which means it’s almost like a forest since everywhere is as green as it gets. We use something called Parabolic Solar Reflectors, so we have ‘natural’ sunlight everywhere. This technology reflects natural sunlight all the way from the surface to here. So we get to enjoy lush forest-like environments underground. Surface people destroyed most of the world’s forests. We see them on the documentaries and paintings and photographs. It’s actually a miracle they managed to survive all these years.
Furkan comes right after I sit. I’m mad at him because he would rather sit on his ass all day to play video games than hang out with me. He’s doing his cute face again and tells me he’ll make me forgive him with a date together. He says we should visit the Surface Museum sometime. I accept and order two lattes. I like the architecture of this street in general, so while I drink my coffee I draw it on my tablet. There are mainly cafes, shops, bars, clubs in this street. That’s not to say it’s a particularly busy place. I finish my drawing and upload it on my blog where everyone can see and use freely as they want. Yasemin once told me of something called copyright. That it’s like a law that surface people have. If you create something, no one else can distribute and make money from this. She tells me there was once a great pandemic back in the day. And since they had copyright on the best vaccines available, thousands of lives were lost because the companies that make the vaccine didn’t want other companies making money. But underground, we usually fund the creations before they were created. For example, if someone wants to make money, we pay in advance before they make it. That way everyone can make movies. And since everyone is on the same level of competition, this healthy competition breeds more innovation.
We go back home and make out. His cute face always wins me over, I can’t resist it. After, I want to play a VR game. Recently I am hooked to this very old game called Ace Combat. I guess I can’t really judge Furkan for playing old ass games now. But it’s a really interesting experience. I did some research into this. Back in the day, surface people had imaginary borders, where they had to protect it with armed air vehicles. And since this was a bad idea from the start, they needed to make games that promote violence and warmongering to kids from their childhood. In underground, we have no borders. Colonies all over the world have underground high-speed rails connecting them. Sometimes I go to Odessa and Kiev. I have some friends there.
Once I take the headset off, I see Furkan preparing dinner. I go and help and in a few minutes, Yasemin and Meral come knocking on the door. They brought even more food. We eat together and decide to watch a movie Meral says is really good. It’s a movie about humans going to the moon. There’s this guy I recognize from other movies, Tom Hanks. I wonder what happened to those who went to the Moon and to Mars. There was this famous rich person in the beginning of the 21th century that wanted to escape to Mars. I heard that he was trying to escape from the climate changing but every one of his rockets also helped with this. So he was banned from ever returning to earth again. Some say he died.
Meral studies genetic engineering but she says she might quit. She’s happy with the bakery. But she’s so much into genetic engineering it’s crazy. She tells us there are still so many advancements to be made. I don’t get it really. I was made by mixing 14 person’s genes. Somehow that makes me stronger? I don’t get it but Meral says it works best this way.
We decide to go out, it’s only 22:00 so not too late. We go to the nearby bar and get drunk. We are still young and irresponsible. I think that might be one thing that never changed through the years. We get out and decide to go to upper levels. We pass composting, microchips, electronics, robot factories, farms, artificial forests, geothermal pumps, and various other public places, where robots do all the works for us. We arrive at the most touristic district in the republic. And go to Surface Museum. Somehow it’s open and we can get in even though we are clearly drunk.
Furkan and Yasemin half-drunk, explain to us the workings of the surface people. How they use uranium and coal to produce electricity and how it destroyed the climate. How they based monetary gain as their life’s purpose and made as many products as they could, so they can buy the competition. Use cheap labor that was created by an artificial system that would not let you live in a good house or even any house, unless you work for their big companies. That would in turn make their products cheaper, which would make the competition’s products obsolete. And when they were losing money on the stock market, they would make a slightly different product from the last year’s product and promote it on media, making people believe “they need it” even when they don’t actually need it. And some companies would even destroy the products from the last year, so their value does on the market does not go down.
They tell us about how they were segregating some race of people from daily life, making sure they end up uneducated, poor, and even unhygienic. Which they would use to promote ideas of how they are somehow inferior to them. While in the main time those same people would be used as their cheap labor in big companies.
But what Furkan tells me shocks me the most. He says it’s not really that hard for him to go to the surface and go buy a new tech if we ever need something to be reverse-engineered in the colony. What makes the surface world scary is not that if they understand you are from the underground they might kill you. He explains how they never know that you are from the underground. Once you learn how to imitate them, you can get along very well. Important thing is not to stick out. They go about their business every day and never ask questions about why the sky is not blue, why there is no more grass growing, why bees are almost non-existent. And the only thing you need to do in order to get along is to not ask those questions. They never knew better, so they think the sky was always like that, the ground was always asphalt, people always used cars, there was always a nuclear reactor and a coal plant.
He says “It’s not like we don’t understand them, it’s that they don’t understand us. Even if it’s agreed that what we propose to save the world would be scientifically beneficial for all of us, they would think our ideas would corrupt them. Somehow make them lose their way of life, somehow make them less pure, inferior, and easily governable so we can control them. That’s why we can’t live at the surface with them. But they did this to themselves. We only need to wait a little. They can’t survive in an environment that harsh. After that we need to work hard, to make the outside world as beautiful as our sewers.”